Central California Faculty Medical Group (CCFMG) and its University Centers of Excellence are now Inspire Health Medical Group.

Internship Seeks to Diversify Surgery Workforce in the Valley

A Pre-medical Surgical Internship (PSI) program, started and developed by faculty in the UCSF Fresno Department of Surgery for students from diverse backgrounds and groups traditionally underrepresented in medicine, has welcomed its inaugural class and introduced a curriculum to prepare students to apply and successfully enroll in medical school.

The class of six PSI students are all from the San Joaquin Valley and were selected from 100 applicants for the seven-month intensive internship. PSI is a subcommittee of the Intentional Recruitment Coalition (IRC) established in September 2020 by CCFMG surgeons and UCSF Fresno Faculty to increase diversity in the physician workforce to meet the needs of the patient population and, in doing so, improve health in the Valley.

“It’s hard to get into medical school, and sometimes you need programs like this to help with your CV (curriculum vitae),” said Kamell Eckroth-Bernard, MD, FACS, a CCFMG physician, surgeon at Valley Vascular Surgery Associates, UCSF associate professor of surgery, and UCSF Fresno residency program alumnus. “Having this internship on your résumé when you apply to medical school will be a big plus,” he said.

Some students in the current PSI class will be applying to medical school this year. Each student receives a $1,000 stipend, with the possibility of another $1,000 to help offset the costs of Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) preparatory courses. The IRC sponsored a golf tournament in the spring at the Dragonfly Golf Club in Madera to raise funds for PSI.

Yazen Qumsiyeh, MD, a fourth-year resident in the UCSF surgery program, is leading the PSI subcommittee and developing its curriculum. Dr. Qumsiyeh emigrated to the United States with his family as a young teenager and remembers his struggles as a pre-medical student. “I took ideas from my own experiences and other programs I have been involved with in the past,” he said.

The PSI curriculum introduces students to medical and surgical topics, such as suturing and knot tying, and the interns are taught skills to help their candidacies to medical school: interviewing, personal statement writing, time management, mechanisms for coping with stress, and mentorship building. The curriculum also includes discussions about health needs. “The curriculum is designed to get them to think about things I feel are not always talked about in medical school – health inequities, disparities, professionalism, and communication skills,” Dr. Qumsiyeh said. “Introducing these topics early on will really make these students stand out in the future,” he said.

“We wanted to make sure we weren’t just talking about medical topics, surgical topics,” Dr. Eckroth-Bernard said. “We wanted to make sure the students had exposure to more than that because the whole process of getting into medical school is not just about medicine,” he said. “Medical schools want to see applicants who are well-rounded. They want to see people who aren’t just doing science all the time.”

PSI interns were to shadow CCFMG surgeons on shifts in the hospital, but the program had to be modified because of COVID-19 restrictions. Instead, CCFMG’s surgeons and UCSF Fresno’s residents volunteered more time to give lectures. Sammy Siada, DO, RPVI, fellow CCFMG physician, Valley Vascular Surgery Associates, and UCSF Health Sciences assistant clinical professor, gave a presentation on an introduction to vascular surgery and a separate lecture on social determinants of health (conditions in the environment such as economic stability, education access, and quality, health care access and quality, racism, and discrimination that have a significant impact on people’s health). “It’s important for faculty to participate because these pre-medical surgical interns are eager to learn what medicine and surgery have to offer and need role models in medicine and surgery to help them along the arduous career path of becoming a physician,” Dr. Siada said.

“It’s very inspiring to see the speakers who come out each week and speak to us,” said PSI intern Karina Peterson, 28, of Fresno. Peterson is the first in her family to have a college degree and a military rank. She has a Bachelor of Science in public health from Fresno State and is a U.S. Army drill sergeant in the Army Reserves. She is working on her master’s degree in public health and is employed by Central California Faculty Medical Group as a medical scribe through a UCSF Fresno-led program at Community Regional Medical Center. The PSI program has given her “more direction and more information about a medical career” in her future, she said.

The internship has helped Gabriela Lopez Ruano of Modesto gain insight into different medical specialties. She has enjoyed interacting with medical students, residents, and attending physicians. “I am learning about resources, opportunities, and pathways that I can take advantage of to be successful in medicine,” she said. Lopez Ruano has a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from UC Irvine. She is a first-generation college graduate and the first in her family to pursue medicine.

Alexa Valladolid, 22, of Modesto, is grateful for the PSI program. “And I do think it’s going to make a difference in the San Joaquin Valley to increase the physician workforce and make more students from underrepresented backgrounds stay on this path,” she said. Valladolid graduated from UC San Diego this past August with a Bachelor of Science in global health. She is the first generation in her family to graduate from college. Her goal is to apply to medical school next spring and to return, after graduation, to UCSF Fresno for residency.

The UCSF Fresno PSI program to help pre-medical students successfully enroll in medical school is needed in the San Joaquin Valley, which has one of the lowest ratios of physicians to patients, Dr. Qumsiyeh said. “Physicians who are from here are more likely to come back and work here – and they understand the community more than anyone.” 

This story was originally published by UCSF Fresno and written by Barbara Anderson. For more stories about the educational programs at UCSF Fresno please visit fresno.ucsf.edu.